The case of the Somali People
There is something so unique about Somali people. They have a great sense of humor; I suppose it’s their way of making sense of the myriad bizarre things that happen in the world. I was once at the OB-GYN’s office once when a Somali couple came in. The man was carrying a new born baby and the woman was behind him, carrying the baby’s nappy bag. She was covered from head to toe, but when she walked in she lifted her veil or niqab so we could see her face.
“Here is a present for you!” says the father, smiling cheekily. The receptionist smiles and says, “Mashallah! What is his name?”
“Barrack Obama,” Says the wife. That nearly killed me, I laughed to tears.
This cryptic sarcasm is definitely a Somali thing – Soon after the Kenya Defense Forces invaded Somalia, Major Emmanuel Chirchir found himself in a twitter war with some very amusing twitter handles claiming to be Al-Shabaab. “@Emmanuel Chirchir – you are using made in Kenya vehicles that’s why you can’t catch us.” The joke there, is the fact that Kenya does not manufacture any vehicles, for those who don’t know.
It’s truly sad, thus, that these same Somali people have faced the most brutal forms of tactics in the name of governance in Kenya and as Counter Terrorism measures.
You must understand that even in the pre-colonial period there was not one territory that had as large an ethnically homogenous population as the Greater Somalia, rendering them a uniquely unified entity among whom the tactic of divide and rule would take a more personal and intrinsic nature than how it inevitably worked among colonies like Kenya which was ethnically diverse. So the division of the greater Somalia into the territories that now constitute Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Somalia which includes the former British, Italian and French Somalia, never went down well with the Somali people. This division of territory is a source of the conflict in the Horn of Africa to this day.
By the 1960s, as Kenya approached independence, a secessionist movement was born among the Somali people, mostly out of a desire to reunite with their kinsmen and fellow Muslims and also out of a fear of being marginalized in the new nation. So the Somali population in Kenya was pushing for the annexation of the Northern Frontier District to Somalia. At the time, majority of the Somali people voted to be joined to Somalia, but this was overridden by the Kenyatta government. What followed then was a civil uprising that was viciously and violently quelled by Jomo Kenyatta’s administration – They referred to the Somali as Shifta and declared all of them bandits and criminals who must be exterminated. This ensuing conflict led to a state of emergency being declared in the Northern Frontier District and the territory was deemed “a closed area” and remained that way for decades. Though the initial secessionist movement was eventually crushed, the Kenyatta government thereafter viewed all Somali with suspicion and any attempt to politically organize them was subsequently crushed as well.
To contain the Somali, the government applied a divide and rule tactic; they would instigate clashes between the different clans of the Somali people. These clashes and internal conflict have taken on a life of their own, to date, there is still a lot of insecurity and violence in the area.
This government fear of the Somali people was based on two fronts – they are ethnically homogenous and are also religiously united. The Kenya government has time and again applied very violent tactics in dealing with the Somali people, causing them to organize themselves around their faith as Muslims. The Somali people became so radicalized due to their oppression that they even went so far as to declare Jihad against their tormentors, thus inviting the wrath and disdain of the global anti-Islam brigade.
It was only much later that President Moi reached out to the Somali people after a Somali general Mohmoud Mohammed helped to crush the 1982 coup. Moi brought the Somalis to the fore as he rallied the smaller Kenyan ethnic communities in response to the threat he felt from the larger ethnic communities whom he believed were against his regime. But this amiable situation did not last, as the ingrained government attitudes towards the Somali people and their brutal tactics were revived after the events in Nairobi of the 1998 bombings of the US embassy and were exacerbated by the 2001 September 11th bombing of the Twin Towers in New York.
Once again, the Somali people as a wholly Muslim population became suspects. By this time, the situation in Somalia had deteriorated extensively; without a recognizable government, a thriving black market trade and proliferation of illegal arms across the Kenyan border made the Somali people even greater targets for human rights atrocities by the Kenyan Government.
To date, the Kenyan government tactics employed by US and British funded agencies like the Anti-Terrorism Police include rape, plunder, vandalism, torture and incarceration of entire families. More importantly, the Kenya government is guilty of flagrant disregard for the rights and freedoms of their citizens and this is most wickedly expressed in permitting CIA and FBI agents to perform Rendition. Rendition is just a fancy way of saying KIDNAPPING.
Rendition is the illegal extradition of “suspects” from one jurisdiction to another with the intention to extract information and also subject the suspect to a judicial process in a country or state where the laws are conducive with the overall objectives of the US government’s war on terror. Because nobody has noticed, or rather no one reports these abuses and extractions, a lot of Muslims and in particular Somali people have disappeared into black holes in detention facilities mainly in Egypt and Europe. Once rendition occurs, the suspect is tortured for weeks or even months with the aim of extracting information that will lead to even further arrests. Most of the people picked up by the Kenya Anti-Terrorism Unit are community leaders or activists; people who are deemed dangerous because they seek to raise awareness and also to unite their communities under the Islamic Faith. The fact is, on any given day, in any part of Kenya, a Muslim can be arrested and disappear forever.
With the support of the Kenya government’s own law enforcement agencies, and the full knowledge of members of our judiciary, our political leaders and even some members of the press, Kenyan Somali people have been subjected to incredibly inhuman conditions, torture, rape, violence, mental and physical anguish, and through all this, and despite all of this, the Somali people still manage to rise, in faith and hope. Somalis are – AMAZING.
Betty Waitherero Njoroge is a writer, a human rights activist and a producer for television. She writes commentary and opinion pieces on socio-political matters in Kenya and runs her own blog on www.bettywaitherero.blogspot.com
She is passionate about the color red, loves roast chicken and red wine, will spend most of her day buried in literature, articles or texts, and she is a mother. Betty hopes to join the University of Nairobi in 2013 and pursue masters in Anthropology, concentrating on Gender, Culture and Language. Her favorite quote is “Brevity is the soul of lingerie” by US author and humorist Dorothy Parker; her rather amusing take on Shakespeare’s famous quote by Hamlet – “Brevity is the soul of wit.”